My grandfather was a numismatist. William Evans Mullan II died over the weekend. The coin collection lives on.
There are many memories the 17 other grandchildren and I share of Grandpa Bill. “Water in the hole,” he would shout on the beach in Delaware as a wave crashed into the giant hole he dug for us. He planted the flowers across the street at Lafayette Park in Northwest D.C. He drank sherry and hummed into empty bottles. His backyard was full of pachysandra.
In his 95 years, he visited every state but North Dakota thanks in large part to cross-country road trips with his naval officer father. My younger brother and I have pledged to also never visit North Dakota. I almost never saw Grandpa Bill without one of those blue hats with gold lettering that commemorate a navy ship.
William Evans Mullan I was an admiral in World War II. The third William Evans Mullan is my dad and the fourth is my older brother. Dillon is my mother’s maiden name. My parents did not test originality in the naming process until my younger brother Luke.
His wife and my grandmother, Joan Mullan, taught English at a community college in Maryland. When my dad or his five siblings sent letters home from college, she responded with corrections in red ink. She passed away when I was a junior in high school, before my journalism career really began. But I’m sure ‘Mimi’ would have had something to say about my habit of polysyndeton or starting sentences with conjunctions or forgetting punctuation inside quotations.
Back to the coins though. This was no ordinary collection. It wasn’t a hobby so much as a passion. Thousands and thousands of coins spanning over a thousand years. My favorite part of old coins is thinking about whose hands they’ve been in and what they were used to buy.
One of Grandpa Bill’s last projects was dividing the coins up to give to the grandchildren. He told me he gave me the Russian coins because I’m the only person he knows who has been there.
To show off just how diverse this collection is, Evans received hundreds of coins from Tibet complete with correspondence with a college professor who used grandpa’s coins to study the region’s history. Numismatists across the world are jealous of Luke, for he has one of the few complete collections of East German coins. My cousin Mikey has the French ones. My cousin Patrick, the Catholic Priest in the family, hauled in the collections from both Ireland and the Vatican.
My Russian coin collection is simply breathtaking. The oldest fragment of coin is from 1424. From there you can follow the money through the tsars and Soviets all the way to modern day. Examining them is a thought-provoking and surreal dive into the depth of human history.
It’s by far my most valuable possession because it is a unique representation of the fact that money doesn’t always equal happiness. My collection is worth more to me than the thousands of dollars they would fetch on the open market. As a gift from Grandpa Bill, the coins are worth more to me than they ever were worth in circulation. They were a priceless gift of money.
I’ll be back home in D.C. for the funeral this weekend. Grandpa Bill is gone but he left behind the coins. I look forward to passing them along one day too.